All to Write For

In this blog post, author Donn McClean tells us about his inspirations for All to Play For and his experience of writing his first children’s novel.

Anna was in my head for a little while before she started to evolve in letters and words and sentences and paragraphs in front of me. She was a conundrum in my head: strong but fragile, consistent but unpredictable, independent but needing support, timid and shy and anxious, yet strong and brave and feisty. 

Anna is a little bit of each of our four girls. (They’re similar, but very different.) Anna’s dad is a little bit me I’d say, but not too much me. He’s way cooler. He’s a little bit more my aspirational self than my real self. He’s a little bit my dad. (See above re: way cooler.) He’s probably a little bit my mum too, or a little bit my picture of my mum.

I lost my mum when I was very small, so small that I can’t remember what she was like, so it wasn’t difficult to write the longing that Anna felt when she didn’t have her dad in her life. It was more difficult to write that acute sense of loss though, when Anna went from having him to suddenly not having him. That part had to be sourced from imagination: how it would have been for me, how it would be for our four daughters if anything, God forbid, happened to me or my wife.

The Gaelic football part was easy. It was all we knew when we were growing up in rural Ireland. The nearest soccer club was a bus ride away, hurling was only played beyond the county borders, as far as we knew, and rugby was something that you watched on television when Ireland were playing, so we were all-in on Gaelic football. 

It was obviously very difficult for Anna after her dad died, moving house and changing school and joining a new football club. She fell out of love with football for a while, the association between Gaelic football and her dad was just so strong – he used to go to all her matches – that it was a while after his death before she could bring herself to go back.

I wanted to give Anna a connection between football and her dad when he was gone, and so she got it with the orange socks that he had given her before her county trials. I stole that idea from reality.  Before I went for Under-14 county trials, my dad brought me to a sports shop and bought me a pair of light green shorts. Hideous things in 1980s Ireland.  ‘Now,’ he said, ’if you play well, you will be easily identifiable by the selectors. You’ll be the boy in the green shorts.’

The working title for the book, before it became ‘All To Play For’, was ‘The Girl in the Orange Socks’.

The actual writing of the book just rolled. I loved writing it. I loved allowing the stories and the characters to develop on the screen in front of me. I would be at my desk at 5.00am, and I’d have an idea in my head of where I wanted to be by breakfast time. Three thousand or four thousand words later, breakfast would be over and I would still be off on some tangent that went on a longer journey than I thought it would.

I think the strands came together though. I’m happy with the respective paths that they took and with where they ended up. I hope the reader is too.

Donn McClean, November 2021

All to Play For by Donn McClean is out now and available from your local bookshop or here